François Ozon has adapted the book by novelist and screenwriter Emmanuèle Bernheim for the cinema, Everything went well. The story: at 85, her father, a famous art collector, depressed and dependent after a stroke, asks his daughter to help him die. This film was presented in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, in competition on July 7. We met François Ozon on a Cannes terrace to talk about it.
Franceinfo Culture : the relation to death is present in some of your films, like Under the sand, Frantz, Remaining time. Is this an important topic for you?
François Ozon: Yes, it’s impossible not to ask the question of disappearance, death is something that has always haunted me. There I appropriated the story of Emmanuèle Bernheim who was a friend and who had told me the story. She asked me when the book came out if I was interested in doing it on film. At that moment, I did not feel ready, it was too much his story. And so Emmanuel had to die for me to finally dive back into this story and try to understand what she had gone through.
For Thanks to God, which deals with pedophilia in the Church and which was then your only political film, you said you took “full face” …
… there too, in Everything went well we touch on a political theme with assisted suicide.
At the same time it was very strong, Thanks to God. There were indeed violent reactions but there were a lot of positive reactions and I think the film took part in the debate on religion in France and a lot of people became aware and the Church itself. I learned that in certain seminars for young priests, my film is shown. But obviously the people who attacked the film are people who haven’t seen it. Because the film was about a situation, he didn’t take part. Finally, if necessarily he was on the side of the victims, but it is a film that questions.
And for Everything went well ?
On this film, it’s the same thing: for me, it’s a film that leaves the spectator free to think and question his own relationship to death. I don’t know what I would do in Emmanuèle’s situation, I don’t know if I would be able to do that, I don’t know if I would like to. So there you have it, I am telling a very particular personal situation, in a very special family, and then it’s up to the spectators … It is the interactive side of cinema that I like, the spectator says to himself: ‘and me what -what I do ?’ If my parents, my father, my mother ask me such a thing?
Beyond your relationship with Emmanuèle Bernheim, did you understand why you wanted to make this film? Because it forces you to question yourself …
Of course. I do not know. Often I don’t know why I’m making a movie. But I am sure of a desire. And it is the desire that is important, it is the desire that leads me. I wanted to tell this story, I wanted to work with Sophie Marceau, who is an actress that I really like. That’s enough. You know, often it’s when I see my films five, six years later, I say to myself: ‘ah, maybe I made this film for this scene’. But there for the moment I do not know.
Everything went well also touches a lot on the father-daughter relationship. What particularly touches you?
What I liked is that in this father-daughter relationship, there were very complex feelings. There was a lot of love but also a lot of hate, a lot of nervousness. What interests me is complexity, it’s ambiguity, I don’t like binary things. And I find that the cruelty of the father allows the film not to fall into pathos. He said at one point something very simple: “no mourners”. Suddenly it’s a bit of a way of saying to the spectators: “no mourners”. Then I can’t stop people if they want to cry …
How did you work with the actors? Have you been very interventionist?
With André Dussolier, we learned a lot. We had the video of Emmanuèle’s father made by her as a reference: on stroke, on the way of speaking, of expressing oneself. For him, it was very important. André, I really told him: let’s have fun. At one point, it’s Auntie Danielle, the character is really mean, unfriendly. And at the same time funny. André Dussolier is a great actor, he is truly a Stradivarius. So he can suddenly go from a nasty line to something funny. And Sophie Marceau, I asked her to be herself. I put her in a situation and I was a bit like a documentary filmmaker filming her a bit like I had done with Charlotte Rampling in Under the sand, it’s a bit of the same experience.
You were talking about your great desire to work with Sophie Marceau. What does she mean to you?
She’s an actress of my generation, I saw The party when I was about the same age as her. She’s an actress that I feel like I grew up with. She has always interested me, she is a popular actress, who exudes a strong empathy. And I immediately felt that this empathy was necessary to enter the story, the spectator had to come home with someone we love a priori. And Sophie is someone we love, we feel that she exudes a humanity. There is her beauty of course, but there is also her frankness. And then she reminded me in a way of Emmanuèle in her physical, concrete side, not in intellectualism, something very sensory.
Let’s talk about the humor that is so present in the film …
In fact, humor is life. For me, it’s a film on the side of life. It’s because André wants to live that he decides to die, that’s the whole paradox. It’s because he loves life, that’s what there is. It’s a bit like when you’re at a funeral, you have a fit of giggles, that’s it, life goes on. One should not be overwhelmed by sadness and morbid.
What does being in Cannes mean to you?
Cannes is the temple of auteur cinema, it is the place of cinephilia. It’s always a pleasure. And I’m particularly happy to be there this year with this film because often my films that were selected there were more sulphurous, like Young and beautiful, as The double lover, as Swimming pool. There, it’s a chaste movie, there is no sex scene, I’m curious to see what will happen.